WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s newest spy planes have now logged nearly 1,000 sorties in the Europe and Indo-Pacific theaters and two more demonstrator aircraft are expected to deploy in 2024, according to Brig. Gen. Ed Barker, the service’s program manager for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors.
The service built the two aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance demonstrator aircraft — known as Artemis and Ares — to try out capabilities the service will need for a modernized fixed-wing ISR fleet. Barker told reporters during a Dec. 5 briefing the aircraft are bridging an operational gap as the service begins to divest some of its legacy ISR aircraft.
The Army is revamping its aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare arsenals and moving away from its aging Guardrail turboprop planes to better prepare for potential large-scale conflict with Russia and China. The service wants a plane with much greater duration and speed and payload capacity that can see, detect and target threats from farther distances.
Artemis has flown more than 600 sorties in support of U.S. European Command’s operations and Ares has flown 300 sorties in the Indo-Pacific, Barker said.
Artemis — or Aerial Reconnaissance and Targeting Exploitation Multi-Mission Intelligence System — has flown in the European theater for nearly three years. The Army in 2019 awarded a contract to HII, and the company subsequently awarded a subcontract to Leidos to build Artemis using a Bombardier Challenger 650 jet.
The other aircraft, dubbed Ares — or Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System — deployed to the Pacific in April 2022. The Army awarded a contract to Alion Science and Technology, which is now owned by HII. Alion awarded a subcontract to L3Harris Technologies in November 2020 to build and fly the aircraft. Ares is based on a Bombardier Global Express 6500 jet.
Ares is a bigger platform than Artemis and provides the Army longer ranges and higher altitudes — key capabilities for the Pacific region.
The sensor packages on Artemis and Ares differ, but both have electronic, communications and signals intelligence sensors.
Two additional aircraft — Athena-R and Athena-S — will join the force and deploy in 2024, Barker noted.
The Army has chosen a pair of companies to deliver jets with spy technologies to advance its long-range targeting plans. MAG Aerospace and L3Harris Technologies in August said they would together outfit Bombardier Global 6500 aircraft with a bloc of ISR sensors for the service’s Theater Level High Altitude Expeditionary Next Airborne ISR-Radar venture, or Athena-R.
The service selected Sierra Nevada to provide its RAPCON-X, based on a converted Bombardier business jet, for its Athena-Signals Intelligence project, according to a Nov. 14 company announcement.
All of these prototype programs will inform the Army’s High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System, known as HADES. The Army acquisition branch recently approved moving the HADES high-speed jet into a rapid prototyping phase, Barker said.
The first phase of the HADES program will include two different aircraft with different sensor packages. “The goal of that is to demonstrate the flexible aspect of the capabilities themselves and also to understand the best of breed that we want to pursue from a production standpoint,” Barker noted.
Program Executive Office Aviation is taking the contracting lead for the HADES program, he added, while PEO IEW&S will work to acquire payloads for platforms chosen for the program.
“We’re going to be looking to acquire radars, [electronic intelligence], and [communications intelligence] sensors to support the prototyping for HADES,” Barker said. “We’re looking at opportunities to look at existing sensors. Is there a way to maximize those capabilities? Obviously, with HADES, we’ll be flying a little higher and longer ranges so we have to be cognizant of that from a physics standpoint.”
In September 2022, the Army awarded L3Harris and Raytheon Applied Signal Technology contracts to develop sensors for HADES.
Already, at least one team has formed ahead of the HADES program competition. L3Harris, Leidos and MAG Aerospace announced in October they were teaming up for the effort.
Colin Demarest contributed to this report.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.